The first thing to say about La Masseria is that, despite its name meaning “farmhouse” and its décor focusing on earth tones with exposed brick and pitchfork tines hanging on one wall, it’s a beautiful space. It has a country feel, but it’s also light, airy, sophisticated. Kudos to Libby Langdon, who also designed La Masseria’s Manhattan restaurant and who has maintained her Rhode Island ties.
|LA MASSERIA | 401.398.0693 | lamasserianyc.com | 223 Main St, East Greenwich | Lunch Tues-Sun, 12-3 PM; Dinner Tues-Thurs, 5-10 PM; Fri-Sat, 5-11 PM; Sun, 3-10 PM | Major Credit Cards | Full Bar | Sidewalk-Level Access|
Owners Peppe Iuele and Enzo Ruggiero were childhood friends in Capri, and they combined their passions for food and wine, respectively, to open the flagship eatery in 2004, when Esquire food critic John Mariani picked it as one of the best new restaurants in America. Executive chef and co-owner is Pino Colodonato, who grew up on a farm in Puglia. He remembers the grains and beans of the land as well as the seafood, and his expertise in those foods shines in his menu.
The terra mare del tavoliere ($15.50) as an appetizer is a signature dish: the tenderness of the grilled baby octopus and cuttlefish, the definitive preparation of the broocoli rabe with it and the fava bean pureé on which they sit, highlight the chef’s skill. The fritto misto del mare (fried calamari, shrimp and sea scallops, $16.50) does the same.
These appetizers are generous enough to share and worth every penny. Similarly, the crispy fried melt-in-your-mouth shoestring zucchini ($6.50) is a surprise. And mozzarella is made daily at La Masseria, stuffed with vegetables, then rolled and sliced ($9.50). Our incarnation had eggplant, asparagus, and roasted red peppers and was delicious.
Iuele prides himself on La Masseria’s meatballs, made only from ground rib eye steak ($13.50). Our three dining companions could have stopped the meal at the meatballs and/or simply had more meatballs.
But a food reviewer’s work is never finished with the appetizers, so we pressed on to the pastas and entreés. The whole wheat ziti with vegetables ($13.50) was quite tasty; the potato gnocchi with tomato-basil sauce ($15.50) were light and delectable. The most unusual dish among the pastas and grains, however, turned out to be “granotto,” a barley-shaped grain from Puglia, prepared like risotto, with white beans and littlenecks. We all loved its toothsome but creamy texture.
The penne Masseria has a signature light tomato sauce, with pancetta, radicchio, and smoked mozzarella ($12.50), and Bill was attracted to its smoky overtones, though he wanted a bit more heft from the tomato sauce.
When we got to the entreés, I chose a fish dish (pan-fried swordfish, $23.50) and Bill the veal Milanese ($32.50). Both were breaded with crushed breadsticks, and the veal was a thinly pounded chop with an arugula/tomato salad on the side. Bill loved his meal, and I liked the non-greasy breading on the fish, though it seemed to overwhelm the delicate seafood taste.
Other seafood choices at La Masseria are grilled whole Mediterranean sea bream, grilled branzino or salmon, and grilled prawns. The chef is so pleased with the quality of squid in Rhode Island that perhaps it will be featured more prominently than just in a supporting role.